Photo courtesy of Cari Dean.
0812 Aki CaleChelsea’s Aki Cale.
Coach Wade Waldrop is not singing the blues like some other local coaches who lost most of their experienced players to graduation last year. The Chelsea Hornets did lose some of their sting when star quarterback Jake Ganus graduated, but Trent Hagin stepped into that position during spring training. With a little help from veterans like four-year starting running back Julius McCall, tight end Austin Washington and junior running back Aki Cale, Waldrop is confident they’ll be able to move the ball offensively.
McCall was injured in week four last year and didn’t play during the heart of Chelsea’s schedule. The Hornets lost two key games to Pinson and Erwin. Those losses had a negative impact on the outcome of their season because it affected the playoffs.
“We drew Muscle Shoals, the number one seed for the first game of the playoffs, and we lost,” said Waldrop.
On the flip side, while McCall was on the sideline, Austin Washington stepped in and got a chance to grow up and gain a lot of experience under the lights, according to the coach.
The offensive line has experience anchoring the key positions with Jonathan Rush at center and Darian Golden at guard. They have Keelan Gregg, who played tight end, but he’ll also see time at linebacker this season.
Waldrop said the strength on the defensive line is junior Troy Marshall at tackle.
“He had a great spring. He’s 6-foot, 4-inches, at 265 pounds,” Waldrop said. “He’s a big kid, but he’s a good kid. He’ll play college ball somewhere next year.”
Justin Lewis, a junior at defensive end, and Marshall will anchor the defensive
Going into spring training, the team wasn’t at 100 percent, but everybody is working out this summer and is healthy right now.
One good thing is that coaches got a chance to see some underclassmen that they hadn’t really seen play before, and they liked what they saw.
The biggest concern going into the fall season, according to Waldrop, is their depth, especially at linebacker and in the secondary.
“We have kids in those positions, but they just haven’t been in the fire, so depth is a big concern,” he said.
The Hornets have 78 players on the roster from grades 10-12, and when you add in the ninth graders, the number swells to well over 100. “We have the numbers,” he said, “but we’re not blessed with experience.”
Another concern heading into the fall season is special teams. “Last year our kicking game hurt us down the stretch, so we have to make improvement there.” Conner McVay will handle the punting duties in the fall.
The buzz around the locker room this summer is that the Hornets are moving up from 5A to 6A. “We’ll be playing Oak Mountain, Spain Park and Prattville,” said Waldrop. “The team is excited about the move because they know that better competition makes them better, too.”
This summer the kids are working hard on conditioning. They understand that to compete in 6A, they’ll have to be in shape physically and mentally.
What’s it going to take to win in 6A? Waldrop said the defense has to keep everything in front of them and make the other team snap the ball one more time. As far as offense, “We have to stay healthy and we’ve got to hold on to the ball.”
With the change in schedule and bumping up to a higher level of competition, Waldrop said this should make for a fun year.